Starting out from the town centre in Banyoles, head towards the lake and start driving around it. You will soon come to a church right by the waterside, the church of Santa Maria de Porqueres, which is just one of the many Romanesque hermitages you will see in Pla de l’Estany. If you take Banyoles as your starting point for trips around the area, you will get a good look at sixty-odd churches, castles, fortified houses and farmsteads of historical value dotted around the county’s eleven municipal districts. Ask at the local Tourist Office about how to get to them, whether on foot, by bicycle or by car.
Head out from Banyoles towards Girona and drive on all the way to the latter city, which is the capital of the province. The cultural, artistic, leisure and shopping options that Girona has to offer you are numberless. Spend a while having a good look around the city.
Noteworthy in Girona’s Romanesque heritage is the public-baths building Banys Àrabs, which reproduces the structure of the former Muslim baths. Close by is the Cathedral – a Gothic-style building, but still featuring the Romanesque cloister and the original bell tower, used as a buttress. The tower, known as the Torre de Carlemany (Charlemagne tower) and dating from the eleventh century, has five storeys in the Lombard style. While you’re there, visit the cathedral’s nave, the broadest to be found anywhere in Gothic architecture and the cause of controversy for its innovative design.
The cathedral museum is likewise not to be missed: in there is the Creation Tapestry, the most important surviving Romanesque textile in the world. It dates from the first half of the twelfth century, and is a large-scale embroidered work featuring a complex portrayal of how the world was created.
Also Romanesque in design are the church of Sant Nicolau and the splendid monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants, which is now used to house the city Archaeology Museum. The monumental design of the church and the cloister are among the finest examples of Catalan Romanesque architecture.
Enquire about the various monuments, museums and buildings you can visit in Girona so that you can decide whether you want to take time off here to make further visits. If at all possible, carry on with this tour route and come back another day to get to know this city in greater depth. Though in fact to make the most of it, you’ll need more than a day.
Carrying on along the route:
From Girona city, take the GI-531 heading for Llémena Valley, and there, amid a surprisingly untouched landscape considering how close it is to the provincial capital, you will find Romanesque churches such as Sant Martí and Sant Esteve de Llémena. The road joins the C-63 (Olot-Anglès) at Les Planes d’Hostoles. From there, head for the town of Amer.
Still preserved in Amer are the Romanesque church and what was once the cloister of the monastery of Santa Maria (10th century). Have a stroll around the town’s main square (the Plaça de la Vila), Catalonia’s second biggest porticoed square. Carry on down the road to Anglès and there take the GI-542, which makes its way through the Selva county, known for its springs and mineral waters. You will soon come to Osor. After stopping there to visit the Mare de Déu del Coll sanctuary, once a Benedictine priory and dating from the twelfth century, carry on towards Sant Hilari Sacalm.
This ‘town of the thousand fountains’ is the starting point for many hiking routes and other mountain activities involving the Guilleries massif
. While you’re there you can take your chance to walk along to one of those springs, bearing such well-known and enticing names as Font del Cirerer (‘Cherry-tree Fountain’), Font del Ferro
(‘Iron Fountain’), Font Picant
(‘Spicy Fountain’), with medicinal waters, and Font Vella (‘The Old Fountain’), the site of the bottling plant of that familiar brand of bottled water.
Then go down the GI-550 to the next town along, Arbúcies, taking the GI-552 to get to Breda, one of Girona province’s ceramics-production centres. Pay a visit to the medieval precinct and to the slender but imposing belfry, which stands 32 metres high – the only remnant of the earlier Romanesque monastery of Sant Salvador. From Breda you can head off into the Montseny Natural Park and go up to Riells, where another Romanesque church is to be found, as well as a number of hiking options.